The federal government announced on Wednesday the deployment of Rangers in Punjab for 60 days as at least four policemen died and over 250 sustained injuries in fresh clashes between the participants of a march of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) near Sadhoki on Wednesday.
The decision to deploy the Rangers was taken in a federal cabinet meeting, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid told a press conference in Islamabad. According to an official notification, the Rangers will be deployed across the province for two months at the request of the provincial government.
“I am directed to convey the approval of Government of Punjab under Section 4(2) of Anti-Terrorism Act (1997) read with Article 147 of Constitution of Pakistan to entrust power to Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) in terms of section 4(3) of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 within Punjab to prevent the commission of terrorist acts,” reads a letter of the Punjab government to the federal interior ministry.
Punjab’s Inspector General of Police (IGP) Rao Sardar Khan told a press conference that “at least four policemen died and 253 injured” in the recent clashes. In the previous clashes, the IGP said, at least two policemen died, while 741 injured.
The protestors had stationed in Muridke after the government offered talks. The parties had reached a deadline of Tuesday for fulfilment of their demands as per an agreement. But the TLP leadership announced in the morning that the agreement with the government had been declared null and void.
The protesters then started moving towards Islamabad. In Sadhoki—a few kilometres outside Muridke – they were stopped by the police. The clashes ensued and police resorted to tear gas shelling, baton charge and using water cannons.
Read More: Govt refuses to give leeway to TLP
The police were able to halt the protestors for some time but in their efforts, four of their colleagues lost lives in the line of duty, while more than 250 sustained injuries. Reportedly, around a dozen of policemen were in critical condition.
On the other hand, the TLP leadership accused the police of resorting to excessive use of force. They alleged that the government was not serious about the dialogue. By the night, the protesters had reached near Kamonke, where they would stay overnight and plan to resume the march on Thursday (today).
In Islamabad, Interior Minister Rashid denied that there were any casualties among the protesters. “I have issued clear direction to the Cyber Crime Wing of the FIA [Federal Investigation Agency] to take action against fake news circulating on social media about any loss of protesters,” he said.
“The fact is police are facing such situation,” he said. “In Sadhoki, they used Kalashnikovs and opened fire on policemen that resulted in the martyrdom of four policemen,” he said, adding that at least eight of the injured policemen were in critical condition.
“The government will not allow anyone to play with the lives of people. [And] keeping in view the serious nature of the prevailing situation, it is part of my responsibility to protect the lives and national security,” the minister told reporters.
“So under Article 147 of the Constitution, on the request of Punjab government, I have allowed to deploy Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) in entire Punjab, as deployed in Karachi, and entrusting powers under Section 4(3)(i) of Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997,” he added.
Sheikh Rashid further said that a summary in this regard had been sent to the federal cabinet for approval and a notification had been issued. “Now, the Punjab government can use the Pakistan Rangers anywhere in the province,” he added.
He told reporters that he wanted to resolve this issue through negotiation. “I had no other option but to allow the Punjab government to deploy Pakistan Rangers when the TLP were killing policemen with automatic weapons,” the interior minister added.
However, Rashid still requested the group to end their protest and return to their homes peacefully. “I clearly told them we cannot close the French embassy, while their ambassador is not in Pakistan,” the minister said. “It seems they have some other agenda,” he added.
“I cannot afford hardships for patients, school-going children and ambulances. It was their commitment to open both sides of the road, but they did not fulfil their pledge. We are still ready to fulfil our promises if they return home.” He warned the TLP that it could face international sanctions.
Situation in Islamabad
The federal government has decided not to let the protesters go beyond Jhelum under any circumstances. It had also decided to use Rangers along with police and the GT Road to Peshawar would also be closed to stop the protesters.
Since Tuesday, heavy contingents of police had started reporting in Rawalpindi. Police and other authorities had dug up trenches on GT Road ahead of the Chenab River to stop the march. The safety walls of the river bridge near Wazirabad were also demolished.
Reportedly, containers and trucks filled with sand had been stationed at the bridge besides the deployment of heavy contingents of police and Rangers. “We have strict instructions not to let the protestors cross the bridge at any cost,” a senior police officer, deputed at the bridge, said.
In the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, police had made arrangements to seal the city. Contingents have been moved to various possible flashpoints and containers were placed in case there was the need for sealing the city.
(WITH INPUT FROM APP)